Mulk Raj Anand is a pioneer of Indian English fiction. As a novelist and short story writer, Anand stands out prominently among his contemporaries through the vast range of his work, his wealth of living characters, his ruthless realism, and his fervent championing of the underprivileged.
Born into a Hindu family on December 12, 1905 in Peshawar, Northwest Frontier Province (now in Pakistan), Anand spent the first 20 years of his life in the Punjab area. In 1920, he entered Khalsa College, Amritsar, where he joined the non-violent struggle against the British government and courted arrest. In 1925, he graduated from Punjab University with honors in English and received a scholarship to study philosophy in London. He completed a dissertation on John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell and was awarded a PhD by the University of London in 1928. During these years, Anand became interested in Indian art, avant garde movements, and left-wing politics.
In London he also began creative writing. He was deeply influenced by the Progressive Movement in literature of the 1930s, and came under numerous literary, political, and social influences, synthesizing his own brand of Marxist leanings with humanist thought. Moreover, the General Strike of 1926, initiated with the goal of acquiring specific rights for mine workers (which Anand supported but which ultimately failed), also had a profound influence on his work. Although he had admired Britain for its achievements in science and technology, the strike shattered his illusions, making him increasingly conscious of a growing class war within British society.
Following the destruction of World War I, European society plunged anew into the shadows of economic depression and cynicism. Alarmed at the situation, some Western intellectuals led by Maxim Gorky, Romain Rolland, Thomas Mann, and E. M. Forster assembled in Paris, where Forster urged his fellow writers to fulfill their public calling – to arouse readers to act and struggle in the name of creating a just, humane society. Inspired by these ideas, Anand and other Indian students studying in England formed the Progressive Writers' Association, claiming that the principal function of literature was to reflect and express the aspirations and fundamental problems of the toiling masses, and ultimately to help in the formation of a pluralistic society.
Accordingly, Anand's own writing is marked by his eclectic humanism, his zeal for social reform, and his humanitarian compassion for the downtrodden. These themes receive their best fictional treatment in his first novel, Untouchable (1935). With a laudatory preface by Forster, the novel received worldwide recognition and, now translated into 36 languages, is acknowledged as a classic. It broke new ground in Indian fiction by presenting an archetypal tension between individual and society from the point of view of a protagonist drawn from the downtrodden classes. It explores the issue of untouchability within the Hindu society as it describes an eventful day in the life of Bakha, a young sweeper outcaste. A well-built young man of 18, Bakha is entrusted with the work of cleaning the latrines, but as a victim of the caste system, he is slapped in the face for failing to announce the polluting shadow of his sweeper presence. The incident is followed by other humiliating events – the upper-caste woman's hatred for the sweeper and the priest Kalinath's attempt to molest Bakha's sister. He feels outraged but cannot hit back until a speech by Mahatma Gandhi gives him hope for a brighter, more equitable future.
Bakha is a prototype of the protagonists of several novels that Anand published soon after. Both Coolie (1936) and Two Leaves and a Bud (1937) deal with landless peasants, another underprivileged group. Coolie depicts the lives of displaced laborers who are exploited by various economic forces, including colonialism. Munoo is a rustic orphan hillboy forced to leave his idyllic village in the Kangra valley so that he can work and see the world. Working as a coolie with a bank clerk who has a shrewish and vindictive wife, Munoo is eventually knocked down by the car of an Anglo-Indian woman and taken to Simla as her servant, where he dies of tuberculosis watching the hills and valleys he had abandoned. Two Leaves exposes the conditions of plantation life in British India. It recounts the tragedy of Gangu, a Punjabi peasant lured to a British-owned tea plantation in Assam, where he is bullied, starved, and killed by a British official who tries to rape his daughter.
The conditions of the 1930s account for many close resemblances between Anand and George Orwell, including their passionate sense of social justice. Both men hated the social prejudices that helped maintain the oppressive status quo – England's class system and India's caste system – and shared a profound dislike of colonialism. In tone and temper, Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier carried the same burden as Anand's Coolie.
The Village (1939), Across the Black Waters (1940), and The Sword and the Sickle (1942b) form an ambitious trilogy on the theme of war, set in Europe and Asia. The novels are unified through the central character of Lal Singh, a young peasant who is 17 as The Village opens and 24 as The Sword and the Sickle ends. Over the course of the trilogy, he rebels against village mores, fights in World War I in Flanders, is taken prisoner by the Germans, and finally becomes a communist. Across the Black Waters, the only World War I novel written by an Indian, covers the adventures of the Sikh hero as a soldier serving in France; it is a severe indictment of modern civilization. The Sword and the Sickle depicts the struggle of peasants against oppression, showing the hero returning home from the German prison, hobnobbing with communists, and ending up in prison again. Both communism and Gandhism are treated ironically.
The Big Heart (1945) depicts one day in the life of a young coppersmith who unsuccessfully champions modernity in a traditional society; the novel debates the virtues of the machine and modernity. All these early novels portray the doomed lives of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Anand's protagonists – a sweeper, a coolie, and a peasant – are victims of social exploitation, class hatred, race hatred, and inhuman cruelty. In a notable exception, Anand's historical novel Private Life of an Indian Prince (1953) introduces a protagonist from the privileged class of Indian princes.
In 1951, Anand published Seven Summers, the first in a series of seven planned autobiographical novels that correspond to Shakespeare's seven ages of man in As You Like It. Seven Summers is an engaging fictional account of his childhood where a small boy looks at social life and customs in pre-world war Punjab. Morning Face (1968), the second novel, received the Sahitya Akademi Award for 1971. Its hero grows up at the beginning of the Gandhian era. The novel is set in Punjab during the violent years of Lal Lajpat Rai, the Rowlatt Acts and Jalianwala Bagh massacre. Confession of a Lover (1976) followed and was given the E. M. Forster Award. It describes the hero's college years and an unsuccessful love affair. The Bubble (1984), Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi (1991), and Nine Moods of Bharata: Novel of a Pilgrimage (1999) continued the series, in which Krishan Chander Azad emerges as a fictional image of the author.
The novels of the 1960s are novels of affirmation, illustrating Anand's faith in man's ability to reconstitute himself. The Old Woman and the Cow (1960; republished as Gauri in 1976) explores peasant life and the pressures that drive people to inhumanity in order to survive; it is a spirited study of a docile, rustic girl's transformation into a rebel.
The Road (1961) travels the same territory as Untouchable, and Death of a Hero (1964) deals rather superficially with the Kashmir freedom movement. Reflections on the White Elephant (2002), Anand's last novel, deals with the conflict between religious fundamentalism and liberalism.
One of Anand's literary achievements is the invention of an English that has the flavor of Punjabi, characterized by the literal translation of expletives and turns of phrase and proverbs from his mother tongue. Anand's word patterns suggest unplanned and spontaneous speech, which contrasts with the controlled language of the descriptive passages. His use of Indian words falls into three categories: untranslated Hindi or Punjabi words such as girija ghar, harijan, or babu; proverbs and swear words translated into English such as “son of a pig,” “cock-eyed son of a bow-legged scorpion,” or “rape-mother”; and English words that have entered the Indian vocabulary by being adapted to Indian pronunciation: injun, gentreman. His free use of slang, low-life epithets, and verbal coinages take Anand nearer to his avowed purpose of evolving a language as rich and powerful as Irish or Welsh English.
An adept storyteller, Anand wrote more than 70 short stories, published in various collections; he also published two collections of retellings of older Indian tales. He contributed to the study of Indian art, notably as founder editor of the prestigious art journal Marg in 1946. Anand received wide recognition for his championing of the poor and the homeless. He was awarded the World Peace Council's International Peace Prize in 1952 for promoting peace through his literary works, and the Padma Bhushan by the Indian government in 1967 for distinguished service to art and literature. He was honorary president of Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, from 1966 to 1971 and Tagore Professor of Punjab University in 1973–4. He died in 2004.
SEE ALSO: Ali, Ahmed (WF); Forster, E. M. (BIF); Historical Fiction (WF); Indian Fiction (WF); Politics/Activism and Fiction (WF); Postcolonial Fiction of the British South Asian Diaspora (BIF); Rao, Raja (WF)
- The Lost Child and Other Stories. London: J. A. Allen. (1934).
- Untouchable. London: Laurence and Wishart. (1935).
- Coolie. London: Laurence and Wishart. (1936).
- Two Leaves and a Bud. London: Laurence and Wishart. (1937).
- Lament on the Death of a Master of Arts. New Delhi: Hind Pocket Books. (1938).
- The Village. London: Cape. (1939).
- Across the Black Waters. London: Cape. (1940).
- Letters on India. London: Routledge. (1942a).
- The Sword and the Sickle. London: Cape. (1942b).
- The Barber's Trade Union and Other Stories. London: Cape. (1944).
- The Big Heart. London: Hutchinson. (1945).
- Apology for Heroism. London: Lindsay Drummond. (1946a).
- Indian Fairy Tales (Retold). Bombay: Kutub Popular. (1946b).
- The Tractor and the Corn Goddess and Other Stories. Bombay: Thacker. (1947).
- The Private Life of an Indian Prince. London: Hutchinson. (1951a).
- Reflections on the Golden Bed and Other Stories. Bombay: Current. (1951b).
- Seven Summers. London: Hutchinson. (1951c).
- Lajwanti and Other Stories. Bombay: Jaico. (1959a).
- The Power of Darkness and Other Stories. Bombay: Jaico. (1959b).
- The Old Woman and the Cow. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann. (1960).
- The Road. Bombay: Kutub Popular. (1963).
- Death of a Hero. Bombay: Kutub Popular. (1964).
- Morning Face. Bombay: Kutub Popular. (1968).
- Between Tears and Laughter. New Delhi: Sterling. (1973).
- Confession of a Lover. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann. (1976).
- Seven Little Known Birds of the Inner Eye. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle. (1978).
- Conversations in Bloomsbury. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann. (1981).
- The Bubble. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann. (1984).
- Pilpali Sahib. New Delhi: Arnold. (1990).
- Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi. New Delhi: Arnold. (1991).
- Reflections on the White Elephant. New Delhi: Har-Anand. (2002).
- Class and Caste in Literature: The Fiction of Harriet B. Stowe and Mulk Raj Anand. New Delhi: Prestige. (2005).
- The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand. New Delhi: Prestige. (1992).
- The Wisdom of the Heart: A Study of the Works of Mulk Raj Anand. New Delhi: Sterling. (1985).
- Voice of the Voiceless: Mulk Raj Anand and Jayakanthan. New Delhi: Prestige. (2006).
- Sharma, K. K. (ed.) (1978). Perspectives on Mulk Raj Anand. Ghaziabad: Vimal.
- Mulk Raj Anand. New York: Twayne. (1972).
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